A subtle killer stalks us at various times in life. It creeps up on us and overtakes us, exhausting and draining our energy. This creeping force is more prevalent than burnout. Yet, few of us can name it.
It’s “rustout.” And, today, rustout is rampant. Effectively, rustout is the opposite of burnout. But, many of the effects are remarkably similar.
Burnout is overdoing. Rustout is underbeing.
Rustout appears when we opt for the safe route. We stay in our comfort zone. We go through the motions without a clear reason to get up in the morning. We ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?”
“Inner Kill” is another name for rustout. Inner Kill is the art of dying without knowing it. And, it is the death of self-respect. It is not growing. Giving up on yourself. It is taking the safe way. Always covering for yourself instead of taking risks. It’s reacting. Not thinking.
It is giving up control of your life to whatever or whomever is around you. It takes two weekly visits to the liquor store, when one used to be enough. You find yourself talking to friends and colleagues about the same things week after week.
And, just as rust can eventually ruin the strongest of structures, so can Inner Kill lead to the ruin of even the strongest of us.
The Causes of Rustout
The causes of rustout read similar to the causes of depression. Your work has become merely a means to an end. You avoid decisions. You daydream about early retirement. You talk a lot about what you’re going to do. But you do nothing. You lay awake at night. Sleepwalk by day. Unusual irritability becomes the usual.
Rustout can affect anyone but it seems that the group that tends to suffer from it the most is people in midlife. They often feel that their road to fulfillment is restricted. They look around and wonder why other people seem content with where they are. So, they settle into a slump.
That is until their slump turns into months. Perhaps years. Then one day they wake up and realize that their slump has become a deep rut. As the saying goes, “the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the excavation.” They realize that they have simply settled for what seemed at the time practical and normal. “Good enough” was, well, good enough. That is until rustout became a deep rut.
The Danger of Rusting Out
Stress is usually associated with burnout. However, rustout stress can be just as dangerous. While burnout is a result of doing too much, rustout is a result of doing too little. Burnout is overdoing. Rustout is underbeing.
Burnout saps our energy. Rustout slowly erodes our spirit. As the name suggests, rustout is burnout’s counterpart. Unchecked rust can lead to depression and even physical symptoms. Rustout results when our talents, passions, and values are not fully engaged at work or elsewhere. We lose our motivation, and slide into a permanent “slump.”
When you feel like you’re in a slump, feel a sense of Inner Kill, it can be difficult to get up in the morning. Here are two simple steps you can use to avoid rustout:
- “Get real!”
Be honest with yourself. Spot it. Name it. Call it what it is. Don’t brush it aside as “good enough” or “normal.” Take the Purpose Checkup (visit richardleider.com and select Resources/The Purpose Checkup).
- “This isn’t what I was expecting!”
Pretending not to notice is, ultimately, fatal. It leads to Inner Kill. Acknowledge your expectations. Talk about it with a “committed listener.” What, exactly, were you expecting at this phase of life?
A Good Question Beats a Good Answer
Is this all there is? is a good starter question. But, to avoid rustout, it’s probably time to deepen the dialogue by selecting a Sounding Board.
The key is not to go it alone. Isolation is fatal. Who are the people you can count on for wise counsel? Who can help you resist the temptation to shy away from the hard work that accompanies the hard questions like these:
- What gives me energy – and, what drains me?
- What are the deep and persistent “tugs” in my life that won’t leave me alone until I address them?
- What doors in my life are closing – and, what doors are opening?
- What direction intuitively feels right – even if there are no hard facts to verify it?
A good question beats a good answer especially if the question clarifies the gap between your current life and your desired life. Your Sounding Board can hold up a mirror so you can see yourself more clearly. And, ultimately, they can hold you accountable for action so you overcome inertia.
Start today by, first, “getting real” – do the Purpose Checkup. And, second, discuss the Checkup with one “committed listener” from your Sounding Board.
By Richard Leider